As we continue to cut down forests and lose biodiversity, there’s something else that we’re also losing: languages.
Since the 1970s, linguistic diversity has been declining as fast as biodiversity--at about a 30 percent decline. There are fantastic comparisons between linguistic diversity and biodiversity; both are products of evolution and have evolved in tremendously similar ways, but both are facing an extinction crisis.
It’s not the first time biodiversity and languages have been linked. Another study showed that 70 % of the world's languages are found in biodiversity hotspots. Which means that as those hotspots are threatened, so are the languages. One in four of the world’s remaining languages are threatened--the exact same ratio as mammals that are endangered.
Today there are 7,000 languages spoken worldwide. Half of those have fewer than 10,000 speakers, making them spoken by only 0.1 percent of the global population. The rest of us have a much smaller diversity in the languages that we speak. 95 percent of the world’s population speaks one of just 400 languages, and 40 percent of us converse in just one of eight languages: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian and Japanese.
That loss in diversity of language is leading to a kind of cultural homogenization. We are losing the richness of human diversity, becoming more and more similar. And as we become more globalized, and our consumption and use of natural resources increases, we lose both languages and our environment.
As we lose languages, we lose local know-how of how to function within a certain environment. New Guinea for example, is a hotbed of biodiversity and culture. It has one of the greatest varieties of life in the world. As deforestation continues, all of those are threatened, and as cultures and languages are destroyed in the process, we lose the knowledge that has been developed over tens of thousands of years. How to use traditional plants for medicine, how to live a symbiotic relationship with the natural world, these are all things that we lose in the process.